Growing fruit for birds

Posted: Friday 23 November 2012
by Kate Bradbury

This autumn I intend to add to my collection of fruiting shrubs for birds. Now we’ve hit bare-root planting season, there are bargains to be had.

Red crab apples on a branch

This autumn I intend to add to my collection of fruiting shrubs for birds. I’m going to take advantage of the fact that plants are available more cheaply now we’ve hit bare-root planting season.

Unlike pot-grown specimens, bare-root plants are dug out of the ground when dormant. They weigh less and require less maintenance than container-grown plants, so are therefore cheaper. Bargains are to be had at garden centres and nurseries between now and March, so if you’re planning on growing a hedge or planting a shrub or tree, now’s the time to do it.

There’s a small selection of fruiting plants in my garden, namely holly, guelder rose (Viburnum opulus), dog rose  (Rosa glauca) and ivy. All were planted as bare-root shrubs last autumn, except the ivy, which was a gift from Sid the blackbird. But they’re a long way off flowering and fruiting. Only the honeysuckle has a supply of berries, which isn’t much to sustain local birds.

Small, manageable options for my garden include hawthorn, pyracantha and cotoneaster. But what I’d really like is a crab apple. It’s probably not the best option for my small, shady plot, as it requires a fair amount of sun, but I think I might chance it. A friend has one growing in her garden and I always feel a pang of jealousy when I see it. Its bark is decorated with a thick crust of lichen, and lots of birds, especially thrushes, eat its fruit. It’s beautiful.

Not only would my crab apple provide fruit for birds in winter, but its spring flowers would attract bees, and the foliage could support a variety of moths. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that it would eventually be colonised by mistletoe.
The native crab apple species is Malus sylvestris, but there are plenty of non-natives and cultivars available, such as 'John Downie' and 'Red Sentinel', which seem to also have good wildlife value. They’re all hardy and do well in most soils, and are now usually grown on dwarfing rootstocks so they reach an eventual height of just 4m. But they do like a bit of sun. If only I had a bit more sun.

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oldchippy 23/11/2012 at 16:54

Kate if you grow all of these fruiting trees you will end up making ketchup or jelly from the fruit and there would not be any for the birds,maybe planting vertically is the answer growing up on raised beds like a may be able to grow as many plants as you could fit in. Oldchippy.

nutcutlet 23/11/2012 at 17:21

I thought all the fruit I grow was for the birds. I'd have to be quick to beat them

flowering rose 24/11/2012 at 11:33

I think you will find that there will be plenty of fruit for birds ,not only will they peck at the fruit you have not picked but all the fallen fruit and with all those bird feeding stations and left overs,I don't think they are going to go short.

oldchippy 26/11/2012 at 12:47

Hi Kate just been clearing the leaves from the grass and noticed there don't seem to be many berries on my cotoneaster this year and the wood pigeons have all but stripped the pyracantha of it's berries ,so not much left for any in coming birds from the continent ,the callicarpa has alot of purple berries this year thanks to a good prune,and the daffs are about 35 mm out of the ground already must be a good sign ,Oldchippy.

thetuna 28/11/2012 at 15:30

I'm hoping someone can give me some advice... I want to plant a hedgerow all around my front garden but I'm worried that people walking their dogs letting them urinate which will kill the plants or do damage while they're growing and establishing themselves.

Is there anything I could do to help the plants grow strong or do I not have to worry about this happening as hedging is more robust than I think it to be?

Any advice and tips would be Gratefully received.


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